So I had to ask, why Respectable Citizen? Keyboardist Bruce Bennett had an answer. “I was reading Jurgen Habermas’ The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. I stumbled across the phrase, and I thought, ‘What a great name for a band!’” Bennett continued, “It also afforded us the opportunity to occasionally appear as our alter-ego: Despicable Alien, which seemed to have some relevance to immigration policies in the US, especially here, in California.”
Respectable Citizen is a loose coalition of musicians up and down the west coast of the US. The core trio of Bruce Bennett on keyboards, Byron H. Diel on electronic percussion, and Vance Galloway on guitar have been playing together on and off for the past twenty years. They started off together in Portland, Oregon as a Frank Zappa cover band in the late 1980s.
Bruce Bennett is a composer of contemporary classical music currently living in San Francisco. He has written for orchestra, chamber music, and soloists as well as for electronic media. Bennett’s music has been played by the likes of the Ensemble InterContemporain, and the Arditti String Quartet. Fresno-based Diel has played with the indie rock band Super Fluid Helium-3 and the thrash metal band Meatwagon, as well as his own solo projects (including poetry, art, and homelessness and public health advocacy) over the past decade.
Seattle guitarist (and Souciant contributor) Galloway spent 8 years as an audio and video systems designer for Paul Allan’s Vulcan Inc, as a designer and production engineer with Naut Humon’s Recombinant Media Labs, and spent many years as a live sound engineer. He is now designing custom media systems for artists and festivals around the world. Galloway has an extensive body of unreleased solo work, and has collaborated with Noise Poet Nobody, the Elders of Zion, and the Christal Methodists, among others.
Additionally, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and technologist Dr. Michael ZbyszyÅ„ski and bassist Marcos Zamudio have collaborated with Respectable Citizen frequently over the last several years. Contra-bass clarinetist Paul Hoskin, trombonist Greg Powers, Laptopist Ben Torrence, percussionist (tabla, steel pan, etc.) Ian Dobson, and others have also participated in Respectable Citizen events. Respectable Citizen events have also included performances in real-time video and live painting by artist PeterBill.
What’s most curious about Respectable Citizen is that nothing is planned and that performances can last for hours. Its premise in not unlike that of free-jazz, even though the results have nothing stylistically in common with jazz. There are no rehearsals, there are no parts. There is only the intention to make music. Another curious aspect of the group is that the instruments are primarily electronic. Technology ends up playing a determinative role in the musical process. The instruments and sound sources require amplified speakers, for the most part, in order to make any sound at all.
This is not DJ music. Most of the sound is generated (or at least triggered) in real-time through synthesis, sampling, and processing. The sonic result remains tied to a physical performance gesture though guitar strings on fret boards, keyboard controllers, and triggers hit with sticks. Within the electronic soundscape of musical possibilities, Respectable Citizen navigates timbre space idiomatically. The character of the sound itself determines the music that can be played. That it what the musicians recognize and then realize in performance.
Respectable Citizen will also use field recordings, rhythmic loops, and one-off samples, cultural detritus, natural sound spaces, and sounds and musics of specific places and times in human history to situate the listener here or there as a point of reference in a vast soundscape. For example, for the last year, performances have included field recordings and video from around the local performance space, which has provided a starting point to bring the audience on a journey from their immediate locale to sounds and images from around the world, all woven through a web of musical invention and video montage.
According to Galloway, “The vastly overused assertion that ‘This music doesn’t sound like anyone else’ may actually be true in the case of RC.” He continued, “…despite the fact that we only get to play together a few times a year, necessitating the highly improvisational nature of this music, I find that our sound is evolving. Recordings from this year and last year show a distinct change—a distillation of the core concepts presented in these older recordings…”
Because none of the band lives in the same city, Respectable Citizen only plays live a few times a year. But there is always long distance collaboration. The tracks, Happy Endian and Gulf War II were produced this way. According to Galloway, “The last two pieces here consist of Bruce and Byron improvising while listening to a pre-recorded clip of my processed guitar.
I provided these recordings of myself improvising (heavily processed) guitar to Souciant’s Joel Schalit to use in his Elders of Zion recordings. Joel edited and processed them some more. [ Ed Note: One of these recordings is "Judean Funeral Oration" from the Elders' Twilight War EP.] He happened to have them around when Bruce and Byron were visiting him in San Francisco.
Interestingly, the same section of guitar solo was selected by Elders of Zion to use on “All That’s Solid Melts Into Air” for their first record, Dawn Refuses to Rise, and by Bruce and Byron for this ‘Respectable Citizen (in absentia)’ recording. There must be something to that track… (laughs) … so, while I couldn’t be there in person, Bruce and Byron were able to create an improvisation around this preexisting recording.
It’s not entirely dissimilar from what Frank Zappa did with his Shut up and Play Your Guitar albums, where a guitar solo was clipped from an existing recording, and then a new piece was composed around the solo. I think it turned out really quite well. It speaks to music making in the digital age on a multitude of levels…”
Bennett reflects on the evening of these recordings remembering that “I’m playing synths (a Waldorf Microwave XT and Yamaha AN1x, I think…) and Byron’s playing an Octapad (I think). His kick pedals pissed off the downstairs neighbors enough to have them call the cops on us. Joel was terribly paranoid since I had done everything possible to make his apartment totally reek. I think clouds billowed out when he opened the door to say, ‘Hello, officer…’
There was a lot of political tumult at the time. The titles are references to the US invasion of Iraq and tensions between India and Pakistan. I guess these issues persist today—and of course to an audio compression codec…”
For more information about Respectable Citizen (and Despicable Alien), see www.myspace.com/RespectableCitizen.
Band photograph by Dr Kawagoe